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An unfair question in an RFP: list strong competitors

I recently reviewed a draft request for proposal (RFP) from a law department. It sought proposals for an area of law. One of its questions was along the lines of “Please give the name of three law firms that you believe are leaders in this area of work other than yourself.”

I recommended removal of the question. Yes, it could provide the law department with a form of peer review – assuming the law firms were honest, knew the relative strengths of their competitors, and shared the law department’s view of what makes a firm a “leader.” I doubted each of those assumptions would be accurate.

But I based my recommendation on basic fairness and my experience selling consulting services. It’s not fair in a country with the Fifth Amendment to ask service providers to boost competitors and thereby injure their own chances to be selected. It is not fair to ask service providers to compare themselves to other vendors of a like service.

If the drafters of the RFP reply “Who said life is fair?”, I will still stick to my guns. In all dealings with sellers we ought to preserve decency and honor fairness (See my post of Aug. 9, 2006 on decent treatment of vendors.).